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Songs That Made the Movie

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Even before The Jazz Singer brought us audible dialogue, film and music have enjoyed a wonderful working relationship. Most of the time it's still up to the movie to do the heavy lifting the drama, the progression, the themes but there are always exceptions. Once in a rare while, there will be a specific song that so wholly encompasses a film's attributes, or comes to define a pivotal scene, that it becomes iconically linked. It's not so easy as pairing a hit song with a hit movie, although that frequently works. We're talking about iconic pairings here; a song has to embody an important theme or legacy of a film while not eclipsing it. For reasons I can't explain, Joe “Bean” Esposito's “You're The Best” is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of integral soundtrack pieces. It's an iconic song perfect for The Karate Kid's training montage, or any montage, really. It's one of those songs that, over time, has been warped into a humorous novelty full of lyrical lumps of coal like, “A little bit of all you got can never bring you down!” which doesn't even mean anything. Still, it is a song and film indicative of that whimsical decade, the 1980's. In the next decade, there was a period of time when a particular brand of sweeping R&B was all the rage and film studios seized the moment. Chief among these tie-ins was Seal's “Kiss From a Rose” on Batman Forever and R. Kelly's “I Believe I Can Fly” from Space Jam. It's hard to call the former song iconic. It's a hit that is faintly remembered today, sure, but the relationship it had with the film is flimsy. It doesn't encompass anything about the film, not its ridiculous camp or its cinematic failure. “I Believe I Can Fly,” though, is all you could want from a movie/song partnership. The mega-hit stood on its own, and it's hard not to tie it to that climactic scene where Michael Jordan embraces the power of cartoons by dunking from half court in 5 seconds, even though it never actually scored that part of the film. But it sure does fit. (Additionally, isn't there something amusing today about the single's cover which features a very serious shot of R. Kelly, Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny?) These kinds of partnerships are rarer to find today as this type of symbiosis seems to have gone out of fashion. Kimya Dawson's work on Juno was important to the film and influenced many soundtracks thereafter, but it still feels like a phase and less like an icon. The Shins blew up with Garden State, but I have a feeling the band will far outlast the film. Today, it's more likely to just see a movie use a song well. Whatever your feelings on the Twilight films, the choice to bookend the films with two versions of Iron & Wine's “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” is pretty inspired. It's more of a case where a song seamlessly melds into a film, rather than being an equal partner in crime.

Vitamin String Quartet Performs Music from Twilight Available at iTunes and Amazon

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From Stage to Screen: Movie Soundtracks by Musicians

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A great movie or song, alone, can inspire powerful emotions. But combined, sounds and images can amplify the sensation. The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr, who worked on the soundtrack to Dennis Hopper's film Colours in the late-1980s, said he enjoys working on movies because “You're not restricted to working on something between three and five minutes long … It also can be quite solitary and it's nice not to have to please four or five other people.”

Film and sound existed separately in the early 20th century, but they ended up cementing a lasting complimentary relationship with each other, from the first feature length sound film in 1927, The Jazz Singer, to music videos today. Our minds love that sync of auditory and visual senses – whether it’s unintentional, like The Wizard of Oz synching with Dark Side of the Moon, or intentional, like the music and movie collaborations that follow: Jónsi (Sigur Rós) – We Bought A Zoo (2012) Some music seems to conjure up movies instinctively, as in the instrumentally and emotionally rich soundscapes of Sigur Rós, fronted by guitarist and vocalist Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson. For those of us wishing that Jónsi would follow us around playing a soundtrack to our lives (and have to settle for iPod daydreaming), we got the next best thing – he scored a movie, We Bought a Zoo. Director Cameron Crowe encouraged Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and the other actors in the film to listen to specific Sigur Rós songs so they could create the right energy for a scene: “the actors listened to the music during their takes; it quickly became part of the film’s DNA.” When Matt Damon finally confronts the iPhotos of his deceased wife that come to life around him in a sonic and sentimental crescendo, a little watery DNA can’t help but moisten the eyes of the audience as well. Trent Reznor (with Atticus Ross) - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) After winning a 2010 Golden Globe and Academy Award for their work on The Social Network, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross decided to pair up again to take on another David Fincher film, the highly anticipated The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Delicate chimes and thin pianos mixed with ferociously plucked strings and ominous bass create just the right amount of foreboding tingles the movie calls for. As the founder of Nine Inch Nails, Reznor seems naturally drawn to the darker side of the music spectrum. This especially comes out in his raw cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” with Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ singer Karen O during the movie’s opening sequence with a vigor that carries on throughout the film. Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead) – There Will Be Blood (2007) If the images in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood don’t scare you, the 80-piece in-your-face string orchestra will. Expanding on Radiohead’s already instrumental-heavy technique, guitarist and composer Johnny Greenwood’s score was well received and nominated for a Grammy. From the brooding lows to the quivering highs, the dissonant, disturbing and always loud strings act as a separate character in the film, adding an eerie personality to an already unsettling setting. Neil Young - Dead Man (1995) Leave it to Neil Young to score a psychedelic western starring Johnny Depp as William Blake, an accountant from Cleveland, as well as Jared Harris, Billy Bob Thornton and Iggy Pop in a dress all sitting around a campfire cooking beans. Improvising on guitar, piano and organ as he watched the film alone in a recording studio, Young provides the perfect rugged and deep jolts of music to go along with the story of a man who wrote his poetry in blood when the west was still young. David Bowie (with Trevor Jones) – Labyrinth (1986) The 1980s were an age of synthesizers. Trevor Jones and David Bowie couldn’t resist mixing the wide-ranging electronic instrument with orchestral ensembles in a hodgepodge almost as strange as the Jim Henson and George Lucas production they scored, Labyrinth. Starring Bowie as both the Goblin King and the film’s composer, the soundtrack has a fittingly ethereal, surreal feel. But the movie’s musical spell is often broken when Goblin Bowie and his minions break out into raucous songs that categorize the film in another '80s cliché of cheesy. Queen - Flash Gordon (1980) Queen’s melodic-dramatic overtures provide a natural soundtrack to a movie – especially one shot in the 1980s about a super hero, like Flash Gordon. And what better way to mimic the film’s ka-pow energy than with extensive use of electrifying synthesizers and overpowering harmonies. After all, Freddie Mercury’s music and performance carried with them a certain theatrical thrill fitting of an action movie. The theme song of the movie, “Flash” is a sonic comic book complete with character dialogue and laser beam sound effects over shouts of “flash!” accompanied by complimentary cymbal crashes. Pink Floyd – More (1969) From Dark Side of the Moon to Ummagumma, Pink Floyd has always voyaged into new and strange sonic territory fitting of futuristic movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Roger Water actually turned down the opportunity to score – something he later regretted. Pink Floyd, however, applied their experimental approach to Barbet Schroeder’s More, a film about a German hitchhiker who falls for an American girl addicted to heroin. Their avant-garde instrumentals and some of their heaviest songs are the perfect backdrop to this mind-bending trip. Be Sure to check out: Per_versions - Vitamin String Quartet Vitamin String Quartet Tribute to Nine Inch Nails Vitamin String Quartet: Strung Out On OK Computer Rusted Moon: Vitamin String Quartet Tribute to Neil Young Vitamin String Quartet Tribute to David Bowie Vitamin String Quartet Tribute to Queen Vitamin String Quartet Tribute to Pink Floyd

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